Izzy's set to open ice cream shop July 29 in Mill District

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July 23, 2013
By: Gabrielle Martinson
Gabrielle Martinson

Despite a long to-do list, Izzy’s Ice Cream’s new Mill District  location is gearing up for business and is scheduled to open its doors for the first time on July 29.

While construction inside the new ice cream kitchen and scoop shop is still going strong, Izzy’s owners Lara Hammel and Jeff Sommers have a good reason to pick the Monday opening date: It’s the anniversary of the exact date the husband and wife team opened the original Izzy’s on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul 13 years ago.

Construction on the project began last September, and when it is complete, the Minneapolis location at 1100 2nd St. S. will feature an ice cream kitchen where batches of Izzy’s Ice Cream will be made and a scoop shop where, like the St. Paul location, customers can treat themselves to a fresh baked waffle cone piled high with one of Izzy’s hundreds of flavors of ice cream.

Sommers has big plans for the location, but the July 29 opening will be a modest one.

“We will open, but we will not be done,” he said. “We’ll basically have two dipping cabinets and a card table. So it won’t be a complete and perfect opening, but it’s intended to be a soft opening.”

If the inside of the shop reflects the modern design of the outside, Izzy’s Minneapolis location is sure to be a Mill District attraction. Designed by Minnesota architect David Salmela, Izzy’s Minneapolis is a boxy, contemporary building with deep blue and white coloring, drawing inspiration from the Guthrie, its neighbor just across Gold Medal Park.

The shop was designed to make the most of the space, featuring four large cube-shaped structures at the top of the building with large windows to let natural light into the kitchen. A curved driveway wrapping around the back of the shop was shaped to the exact turning radius of a semi truck in order to make deliveries easy.

Izzy’s kitchen takes up most of the 5,200-square-foot building and will include plenty of room for making ice cream, a large cooler and freezer, a special temperature-controlled room just for chocolate and space for groups to come in and make their own ice cream flavors.

Salmela added a personal touch just for Sommers when he designed the project: a tiny window in the northwest corner of the building.

“In St. Paul, I don’t have a single window, and I haven’t for 12 years, so here David built me a window,” Sommers laughed.

Sommers is planning plenty of seating for the ice cream scoop shop and is seeking City Council approval for a sidewalk seating permit so that he might be able to put small tables and chairs outside the shop. Seating for about 12 is planned for the upstairs space in the building, and Sommers said he eventually wants to revamp the roof to feature some rooftop seating as well.

Izzy’s original St. Paul scoop shop will continue operating, but Sommers said the St. Paul kitchen, where Izzy’s used to produce all of its ice cream, would serve a different purpose.

“(The St. Paul) kitchen will shift to producing handmade novelties; so, ice cream sandwiches and Izzy Pop frozen treats exclusively, and then we’ll launch those in the grocery store,” Sommers said. “It will be sort of the first offering of handmade novelty in the grocery.”

The expansion was a necessary one for the ice cream shop, which currently serves thousands of customers each year. Hammel and Sommers opened the original Izzy’s in 2000 after leaving their jobs — Hammel as a clerk for a judge in Hennepin County, and Sommers as a teacher in Minneapolis Public schools.

After much discussion, the pair decided their passion for ice cream, combined with their admiration for local ice cream shops, would make opening their own business worth a try. They began renting out a space close to their Merriam Park home in St. Paul, and after a lot of hard work and ice cream, Izzy’s became a local success.

Izzy’s has not only become a favorite among Minnesotans, but has been nationally recognized for its homemade ice cream, its dedication to solar power and its Flavor Up! system, which automatically emails customers when their favorite flavors are being served at Izzy’s.

Because of all its success, Sommers said he and Hammel had been looking for a place to expand to for at least seven years, checking out many different locations in areas all over the Twin Cities before stumbling on the small plot of land at 1100 S. 2nd St.

“Lara actually drove by the land and she’s like, 'Jeff this land is for sale, why didn’t you ever tell me about this?’ and I said, ‘Because it looks too expensive,’” Sommers said. “So I called, and here we are.”

Nabbing the small plot of land was perfect timing for the ice cream business. Shamrock Development, which owns the property next to the plot, had been negotiating with the city for several months, trying to purchase the land for a lower price than the city was asking.

On Oct. 31, 2011, Izzy’s offered the city full asking price of $437,850 and the city granted Izzy’s the land, even after Shamrock Development came back in November 2011 to offer $450,000.

Despite opposition from local residents who feared that Izzy was building a factory that would be an eyesore and an annoyance to their neighborhood, and despite Jim Stanton, president of Shamrock Development, stating that a factory would reduce the value of condominiums the company was planning to build next door, Izzy’s expansion marched on.

Izzy’s did change their original plan of using the Minneapolis space as just an ice cream kitchen to including a scoop shop as well, in order to fulfill community interest. Sommers said he doesn’t know how neighborhood relations stand now that the shop is getting ready to open.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “As you get further into the other condos, I think all of them are very excited, but the person living right next door might be a little apprehensive.”

Sommers did say his relationship with Stanton, whose team is moving forward with construction on condos next door, has improved throughout the building process.

“I have a really good relationship with Mr. Stanton, I mean, I think it’s a lot better,” Sommers said. “I think he was the no. 1 opponent, initially. I think he still wishes that he owned the land, but he was very generous, and came over on our first day of construction and wished me luck, and in the process of building, his team has been extremely generous to us.”

Sommers said there is still a lot to do before the Minneapolis location is complete, but he is looking forward to the soft opening, and has heard others are too.

“I’ve heard rumors there’s somebody who might be camping out that night to be the first,” Sommers said. “Who knows?”